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Will DOJ Fight Colorado’s New Recreational Pot Law?

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marijuana wars -- weeds a stimulant

With voters in Colorado and Washington State approving the use of recreational marijuana, the question is: How will the state laws fare with the federal government, which says pot is illegal?

In The Washington Post, Sari Horwitz quotes Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper:

‘The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will,’ Hickenlooper said in a statement. ‘This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly.’

And John Ingold reports for The Denver Post, in an article appearing on, that Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, “an ardent opponent of marijuana legalization,” said on Wednesday he will respect the will of the voters, but does not hold out hope for the measure’s success in the long term. That is because the U.S. Supreme Court recognized “the ability of the federal government to criminally sanction possession, use and distribution of marijuana, even if grown, distributed and used in a single state.”

“Therefore, absent action by Congress, Coloradans should not expect to see successful legal challenges to the ability of the federal government to enforce its marijuana laws in Colorado,” Suthers wrote, as Ingold reports. Suthers urged the U.S. Department of Justice to respond as soon as possible to lawsuits in Colorado and Washington to block the new recreational marijuana laws.

Ingold writes that the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado, John Walsh, issued the following statement on Wednesday:

The Department of Justice’s enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. We are reviewing the ballot initiative and have no additional comment at this time.

The Colorado measure, Amendment 64, passed on Tuesday by 54.7% to 45.2%. It allows people 21 and older to buy up to one ounce of marijuana at regulated retail stores, Horwitz writes. It will “take effect as soon as the final vote is certified some time before the end of the year,” Ingold writes. Possession would be legal, but it would not be legal to use pot publicly. Washington’s Initiative 502, also approved by voters on Tuesday, allows adults over 21 to buy up to one ounce of dried marijuana, up to one pound of infused product (such as brownies), or up to 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquids.

Voters in Oregon rejected a similar ballot measure in that state. Horwitz writes that opponents of recreational marijuana have warned of a federal crackdown, unauthorized use by children, and have expressed concern that the states could attract “drug tourists.” Colorado is one of 17 states and the District of Columbia that allow medical marijuana; Massachusetts voters added that state to the list yesterday.

Horwitz notes what some supporters of Colorado’s Amendment 64 have said:

In Colorado, the measure was supported by more than 300 physicians in the state, including Bruce Madison, the former associate medical director of faculty at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who said that current laws waste ‘hundreds of millions of dollars in a failed war on marijuana, by ruining thousands of lives by unnecessary arrest and incarceration, and by causing the deaths of hundreds of people killed in black-market criminal activities.’


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